Saturday, November 26

Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony – Liverpool Philharmonic

Marking the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birth, this concert combines the magical with the majestic, and drama with the delicate. Engaging but not overpowering, it provides a wonderful evening of music.

The concert is of two halves, with the second half being dedicated to Vaughan Williams. Opening with Edward Elgar’s Froissart overture, the room bursts into life. Making use of the full orchestra, Elgar’s first large-scale work permeates the atmosphere.

As the music gathers pace, the enthusiasm from Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Manze, is tangible. His mesmerising movements ooze wizardry. All eyes are on him as he leads the orchestra, almost dancing – you can’t help but enjoy watching the craft of conducting.

Following Elgar is Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No.2. Underpinned by somewhat haunting echoes, the concerto is last major work before his death. For this piece, Swiss violinist Sebastian Bohren, joins the conductor and orchestra on stage. Oscillating between the forceful and the delicate, his playing is superb. The storytelling of the music mirrors the storytelling of his body language – you watch with bated breath to see if his violin will survive the emotive playing Violin Concerto No.2 evokes.

Returning to the stage three times after his performance, Bohren then treated the audience to an extra. He did a solo of Evolène, a piece inspired by the Swiss Matterhorn mountains composed for the mountain village of the same name.

Photo: Ben Wright

The musicians are, as you may expect, extremely gifted.

However, they are not just technically gifted. As the music reveals itself, the expressions of those creating such sound are a feat to witness in itself. There is a difference in audience experience when watching an orchestra play music compared to when watching an orchestra live through music. The musicians become fully absorbed in their playing – this, combined with Andrew Manze’s passionate conducting, brings the audience into the concert beyond an aural experience.

As the second half gets underway, the audience is immersed in Vaughan Williams. Picking up the pace again, William’s ‘The Running Set’ skips around the hall. Running together four folk tunes William’s knew well (‘Barrack Hill’, ‘The Blackthorn Stick’, ‘Irish Reel’ and ‘Cock o’ the North’) it demands excellent timing from the orchestra and faultless communication between them and the conductor.

Closing the concert’s, The Fifth Symphony, makes its appearance. The audience are taken on a journey through ambiguous modal harmony and emotional fragments in four sections. Composed when the world was at war, there are contrasts between light and dark, hope and melancholy. It has a somewhat cathartic, choral tone to it.

The orchestra look to Manze to lead them through this last section of the concert as the evening of aural storytelling comes to a close. As Manze gently brings them to a silent stillness, both the audience and the orchestra are hypnotised, before erupting into fulfilled applause.

Information about further concerts is available at

Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle

Reviewed: 6th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★